The attorney general ordered editor Nasab’s arrest on blasphemy charges after the religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, Mohaiuddin Baluch, filed a complaint about his magazine. “I took the two magazines and spoke to the Supreme Court chief, who wrote to the attorney general to investigate,” Baluch told The Associated Press.
In the allegedly blasphemous articles, Nasab questioned the use of harsh punishments under traditional Islamic law, such as amputating the hands of thieves as punishment for stealing, and publicly stoning those accused of adultery, according to international news accounts.
Nasab was convicted in Kabul’s Primary Court on October 22 and sentenced to two years in prison. Judge Ansarullah Malawizada said that his ruling was based on recommendations from the conservative Ulama Council, a group of the country’s leading clerics. “The Ulama Council sent us a letter saying that he should be punished, so I sentenced him to two years’ jail,” Malawizada told the AP.
In a report shown on Afghan state television, Nasab rejected the conviction: “I do not accept the verdict by the court. It is a forced and illegal court.” Nasab said that he was not allowed to have a lawyer to help in his defense. Held in Kabul’s central jail, Nasab was under threat from other inmates because of the nature of the charges, local sources said. Journalists said that his conviction had a chilling effect on reporting, especially on religious issues.
Writings considered anti-Islamic are prohibited under a revised media law signed in March 2004, but the law is vaguely worded and local journalists are uncertain what constitutes a violation. The revised law also stipulates that journalists can only be detained with the approval of a 17-member commission of government officials and journalists. Yet police did not obtain approval from the commission before arresting Nasab.
On October 19, Minister of Information and Culture Sayed Makhdum Raheen did convene a hearing of the media commission, which found Nasab not guilty. “We found there was no blasphemy in the articles at all,” Raheen said in an interview with The New York Times. The commission’s recommendations, however, were nonbinding.